“It is difficult to bring people to goodness with lessons, but it is easy to do so by example.” ~Seneca
With spring we turn our attention in earnest to our gardens. And this year as Earth Day loomed, I also turned my attention to what I was doing to be more environmentally conscious and earth-friendly especially where my garden was concerned. One of the essays from the book talked about reducing your garden’s climate footprint. This carbon footprint has not been easy to calculate because the available carbon calculators do not adequately measure a garden’s carbon footprint. But there are steps you can take to help reduce the carbon footprint in your garden. These apply to any garden project, renovation or construction. Here is my take on these steps:
Protect the natural landscape on your property especially the trees
When we moved into our new house we were fortunate that many mature maples and ash trees were left on the property. While we have lost one ash tree, 9 trees remain. We are bracing for the emerald ash borer which has invaded parts of NY. As it moves East and North, I fully expect all my ash trees (7) to be destroyed. Of course if this happens, I will be planting more native trees, and a more diverse grouping starting with at least one oak.
Protect the soil and amend it since it may have been stripped during construction
All the lovely humus that had been laid for so many years in the woodland that used to be on our property was stripped right down to the hard clay. This has led to drainage problems and certainly lots of nasty invasive weeds not to mention difficulty planting many natives. So we have amended the soil, and continue to do so as we plant woodland natives again. I have also added rain gardens to help with drainage and flooding. Thankfully our house was built high up on the property so we do not have flooding issues in the basement.
Use trees and shrubs for windbreaks, shade and to capture more carbon-use natives for your area
Having the trees left on the property has helped with some shading especially in the back of the house, but no trees were left in the front or sides so there is not windbreak or shade. We have added a few trees and shrubs (some were not native), but we recently have been taking out the non-natives and replacing them with natives to add shade.
Reduce or eliminate turf areas- use natives for your area
The one unfortunate thing about living in the ‘burbs is the fact that you are compelled to have turf. Resale on the house is better with grass because families want grass for their children to play on. It is a fact that we encountered when selling our old house. I had one tiny patch of grass in the front and all other areas were elaborate terraced shade gardens. We had a hard time selling the house, and when we finally sold it the new owners promptly took out every bed and most of the mature native trees and planted grass. I have never gone back to see the destruction. How could I.
But even with the grass we have, I have continued to carve out more planting areas. I also grow a meadow at the back of the property instead of growing grass. There are so many things we can do to reduce the lawn including planting native ground covers to replace the lawn. I hope to explore this next in our garden.
Maximize the planting areas and limit the hardscape- use natives for your area
When we planned the area, I was adamant I was not using pavers. I loved the look of real brick. I wanted a front walk and a patio made of this beautiful material. There are some issues with the energy they require to make, but they do absorb heat and are more permeable. I also have sand between the bricks so they are even better at allowing water through and plants to grow between. I have lovely native mosses growing in the shadier areas between the bricks.
And as much as possible, use materials that have been salvaged. Had I thought about it, I would have used salvaged brick. It is even more beautiful than the brick made today, and it has so much more character.
Locate the right plants for each area- use natives for your area
It is important to find the right plant for the right location. Do you have a drought area where there is little water and lots of sun? How about those wet areas where everything you plant seems to die? Without the right location or growing conditions, even a native plant is doomed.
I love natives because you can find just such a plant for each of those problem areas. Of course you have to do a bit of homework. I have been incorporating natives into my garden over the last few years, and have finally begun an inventory of the plants and their preferred growing conditions. I will be doing a four part series in the near future of these native plants and their perfect locations.
Incorporate homegrown food into the planting beds or add a few raised beds
I love growing my own food. At first it seemed daunting with all the specific needs of different fruits and vegetables. Then there were the pests and diseases. Who knew it would be so hard and sometimes so disappointing? Well it’s not really. If I can do it anyone can…really you can. And there is a lot to be said for homegrown food. I grow mine because I want fresh organic foods. If you have ever tasted a radish or lettuce fresh from the garden, or smelled a tomato on the vine and eaten it warm right there in the garden…well enough said. You will be hooked I promise. I went into vegetable growing slowly, and bought a few great books to help me.
But growing your own food can also reduce your use of fossil fuels, and it can reduce your garden’s carbon footprint if you follow a few simple rules. To really reduce your carbon footprint, grow the veggies from seed, don’t use power tools or store bought soil amendments or fertilizers (no chemicals please). Create your own compost from worms or compost piles, and make compost tea from it. There are so many ways to be more climate conscious while growing your own food, and the book certainly goes into them in detail.
So what have you done to reduce your garden’s carbon footprint?